“The Memorable Stone-Wall”: A local dispatch about the Battle of Cedar Mountain

In August of 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee led a campaign against Major General John Pope and the Army of Virginia. We know it now as the Northern Virginia Campaign.

A letter in our archive discusses the aftermath of the earliest engagement of the campaign, the Battle of Cedar Mountain.

Picture of Cedar Mountain, looking south from the approximate southwestern corner of The Wheatfield, by Matt Stewart, taken October 16, 2005

Picture of Cedar Mountain, looking south from the approximate southwestern corner of The Wheatfield, by Matt Stewart, taken October 16, 2005

The battle pitted Union General Nathaniel P. Banks against Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson, better known as “Stonewall.”

On August 13, Judith, writing from the small community of Louisa (between Charlottesville and Fredericksburg), tells Donnie Perkins about the impact of the recent battles on the local community.

We’ll share some excerpts here. You can read the letter in its entirety in Acumen.

Judith begins with an explanation of why she hasn’t answered a letter from late July.


I make no excuse for not having written before, for you can well immagine the reason when you consider the bustle and excitement we have been in for some time back, and now, while I am writing I am annoyed by the continual passing of army-wagons and soldiers.

The “memorable Stone-wall” had crossed the Rapidan River on “last friday,” August 8, for an attack starting the next day, with “canonading which at times was so severe as to jar the earth round us.” She seemed to think he had something like 60,000 men under him; in reality, that’s more than the entire force under Lee during the campaign.

However, Jackson did command the entire left wing of Lee’s forces. The “continual passing of army-wagons and soldiers” as she’s writing the letter might be the fallback of those troops to Gordonsville, just 10 miles NNE of Louisa.

As for the recent battle, according to Judith,


We have heard no particulars from the fight but we drove the enemy back with very little loss on our side. We took a good many prisoners among them 3 Gen’ls and some 60 or
80 commissioned officers. Billie was in the fight but came out safe though his regement the 13th Va was very badly cut up having many wounded but none killed.

She goes on to describe some local losses in that battle as well as an earlier “Richmond battle,” probably during the Seven Days Battles.


A Widow Lady living near us had 2 sons killed and a third one wounded in 3 places. She also lost one at the battle of Fort [Donelson], he was wounded and taken from the field but not returned to fight again when he rec’d a mortal wound.

She stops at this point to talk about the sacrifices that have been made to the cause – “They were very brave, but dear Donnie, the bravery of our friends is very little comfort to us, when they are cold in death.”


Oh! you can little immagine the horrors of war ’til you see, and hear the groan, of the wounded and see the distress of the bereaved friends, and even that is nothing to be comparred to the shocking sight of the battlefield. Oh! when will this unholy war end? Perhaps when all of our friends are killed. Then what will “Liberty” be to us.

She has harsh things to say about the rhetoric of sacrifice: “All this sounds very pretty, but if they could see their friends come home with their feet blistered from marching…and see them fall on the floor in utter exhaustion…I think they would lose their patriotism.”

Next, she theorizes about what’s to come in the war: “I am anxious to know what move the dear old Stone-wall will take next. His men seem to think that he is going to make a grand move into Maryland which, I hope may prove true.” Of Jackson, she reports,


His men love him dearly and would go through fire and flame[?] at his bidding. His forces were surrounded at one time up in the mountain, but his men remarked that old Jack had brought them there and that he would bring them out and so he did by marching them single file across the mountain with a yankee army within a half mile of him on each side. No doubt they thought they had him safe enough but he was too keen for them.

The previously mentioned Billie was with that force. She shares that Billie picked up some “yankee trophies,” including the very paper she’s writing on!

Judith talks about more deaths, including the son of a cousin, also in the Richmond engagement. Sharing more details from Billie, she writes,


They had to march to the fields through briers, over ditches and quagmires and were almost broken down when they wint into the fight and [?] had had scaresly any thing to eat for several days. Billie told me that one of the men that marched by him got into a quagmire and he had
to help him out. The poor fellow came home sick after the battle and soon died.

In news closer to home again, she shares that “the yankees have been very near us several times,” including while they were on their way to a supply depot in the vicinity. Her letter wraps up with some personal news about a sick family member, but the fighting is never far from her thoughts.


I have just heard that Jackson is to be reinforced by 4000 so we may expect a big battle soon.

That reinforcement would have been the right wing, under Longstreet, coming to aid Jackson’s left. Two days later, Robert E. Lee would meet them in Gordonsville to take command of the whole Army of Northern Virginia.

Two weeks later, Jackson had already destroyed the Union supply depot at Manassas Junction and was engaged in the Second Battle of Bull Run (also called Second Manassas), a major Confederate victory. By early September, though, the Army of Northern Virginia had moved on to Maryland, to the bloody Battle of Antietam (Battle of Sharpsburg), which, though inconclusive, helped turn the tide of the war back to the Union.

WWI: Month One

At the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, let’s look at some items from Acumen that reflect the events of the war’s earliest days.

July 28 — Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia, following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; Russia mobilizes in response
August 1 — Germany declares war on Russia
August 3 — Germany declares war on France; Belgium denies Germany the right to pass through to France
August 4 — Germany invades Belgium; United Kingdom declares war on Germany

August 4 — United States declares neutrality

August 6 – Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia
August 11 – France declares war on Austria Hungary

August 12 – United Kingdom declares war on Austria-Hungary; Battle of the Frontiers begins

August 14 – France invades Lorraine, a German border territory that was long part of France

August 17 – Russia invades East Prussia in the Battle of Stalluponen, the first battle of the Eastern Front, a Central Powers victory

August 20 – Germany occupies Brussels (Belgium); Battle of Mulhouse (Alsace, Germany), a Central Powers victory
August 22 – Austria-Hungary declares war on Belgium

August 28 – First Battle of Heligoland Bight (North Sea), first naval battle of the war, Allied Powers victory


August 17 — Battle of Tannenberg (Germany), Central Powers victory

September 5 — First Battle of the Marne, Allied Powers stop advance of Germans through France

While this first month of the war saw armies on the move, soon after trench warfare set in along the Western Front, to last for most of the duration of the war.

To learn more about the American experience of WWI, take a look at our new digital exhibit, WWI: Centennial Reflections.

Cartes de visite: More than just photographs

Recently, we digitized a large collection of cartes de visite, a mid 19th century photography phenomenon that featured albumen prints mounted on heavy paper or cardstock.

Here are some examples — click on each image to see it up close, complete with the photography studio labeled on the front:

Each carte de visite (CDV) was about the size of a calling card, making it easy to carry around and exchange this new technology with others.

But these cards feature more than just photographs. The back of the card provided the photography studio with an opportunity to advertise its business. While some studios simply included a name and address, or perhaps the processes they offered or their pricing structure, some used decorative monograms or icons to draw potential customers’ attention.

Some studios, though, used more elaborate illustrations. A common one was the artist’s palette, perhaps indicating the attitude these studios took toward their craft:

This one includes both a palette and an equally common icon: the camera itself.


Here’s another that features a camera, this one in the act of taking a photograph:


You’ll see a camera in the second image below, this one being wielded by a cherub, a surprisingly common motif on our CDV backs.

More exotic figures sometimes appeared on card backs, like the lion and sphinx below:

exotic_0400071 exotic_1400088

The second card above is a good example of illustrations used as a decorative border for a largely text-based presentation. Here are some others:

Some photographers included images of their actual studio space on CDV backs, like these:

But some card back illustrations are even more complex. This one is quite elaborate but a sort of perplexing choice for advertising art:


To find more cartes de visite — to see photos of everyday folks from the 19th century and get a sense of the self-conceptions and business practices of photographers — check out the Southern Cartes de Visite Collection in Acumen.

3D Digitization Project: testing phase (continued)

Last week, we told you about a test of our Digitization Manager’s relief digitization process, under development thanks to a UA Libraries’ Innovation Grant.

The project: a process to capture relief data using (1) a regular mounted digital camera setup, (2) a piece of simple secondary hardware, (3) the ubiquitous photo editing program Adobe Photoshop, and (4) some homegrown open-source software.

For the last few months, Jeremiah’s been simultaneously working on designing the hardware (and in a way that can be replicated by others), writing the software (a Ruby script), and working out the logistics of the technique. While last week’s post focused on how the captures are made, this one will focus a bit more on how and why the technique works.

Light and Dark

You might be wondering, Why do you need an extra piece of hardware? The short answer: light. The relief capture process depends on using brightness values to determine height, and the hardware Jeremiah built helps in this aspect.



The movable mask (green) makes the mounted lights illuminate an object in just the right way, as it comes into view through the opening in the mask. The object, down below the mask, is being shot from above and illuminated at an angle:apperture-lightingWhere both lights cross and hit the object, the brightness values will be highest; where neither light hits the object, the brightness values will be lowest. Dozens of slices of the object are shot, each being illuminated in this way.

Height and Depth

When the slices are layered into a single image, called a height map, the composite brightness values can be used to create a sense of the object’s height and depth.  Here’s what the height map looks like for Mr. Hoole’s key:

hoole_key_dispOf course, this is in black and white, since it’s only using the lights and darks of the brightness channel. Color values return when a single, un-sliced shot of the object, called a texture map, is combined with the height map in Jeremiah’s software. The software transforms the data into a .x3d file so the object can be viewed in all its lovely dimensions.

The first time we processed the key, though, the dimensions weren’t so lovely:

hoole_key_no_blurLooks kind of fuzzy, no? We picked up so much detail from the surface of the key, so many light and dark tones, that it appears to have wildly variable height and depth, even from pixel to pixel.

The solution in this case was to blur the height map a bit:


Okay — so it was blurred what looks like a lot, but it was necessary to tame the height values. The texture map, however, wasn’t blurred, so the overall detail is still good:


(You might also notice the background doesn’t show up in this 3D rendering. This wasn’t because of the blur applied but because Jeremiah manually blacked out the background areas, now that he was satisfied with the way the rest turned out.)

Jeremiah’s still in the process of testing the technique and tweaking the software and hardware designs where needed. You’ll see more about this project once it’s out of the testing phase and ready for its public debut. :)

3D Digitization Project: testing phase

Our Digitization Manager, Jeremiah, has been working on a pretty exciting project, and we thought we’d share some pictures from the testing phase.

Late last year, we got a grant from UA Libraries to develop a digitizing process for relief objects, including an inexpensive apparatus used to facilitate the image capture (see these posts about making the components) and a Ruby program that creates the 3D files. The project is now in the testing phase.

For my first test run last week, we chose one of the large keys that used to be in the possession of our special collection library‘s namesake, W. S. Hoole. (Thank you, Associate Dean Mary Bess Paluzzi!) They’re not only cool shapes to work with, but they also have some nice textures:

In Jeremiah’s process, dozens of shots of an object are taken and composited together. To make those captures with our usual mounted-camera digitization setup, we’ve added a secondary apparatus, one with a mask that moves back and forth over the object, targeting portions of it for capture:

Most of what I learned this go-around was how to set up the object for digitization, orienting it to the apparatus. Here it is on a platform under the apparatus (with mask removed):

Once the object is in place, it can’t be moved. Instead, everything else moves, structuring the way light is cast onto the item:

  1. The position of the apparatus changes after each pass over the object. At minimum, we shoot the object from two different orientations, usually three. (If you look at the wide shots above up close, you’ll see circular position marks on the table.)
  2. The position of the opening — or aperture — in the green mask is moved in increments during the digitization process, so that we capture multiple different views of the object through the aperture.




Why is the mask bright green? For exactly the reason you might expect — to use a green-screen process. It’s not too different from how actors are shot in front of a green background so computer-generated effects can be added in around them. In this case, the green signals to the Ruby software which portions of the image should be cut out — namely, the parts that aren’t the slice of the object.

After all the capture is done, the images are combined into a whole. It looks like this, before we map a color shot onto it:


In subsequent posts, we’ll talk how the compositing technique works. It has a lot to do with lighting. In the meantime, this is a screenshot of the final product of the key test:


Searching Acumen – Limiting by Field

Acumen’s simple one-box search is pretty robust, searching multiple fields by default, but what if you need to pinpoint a specific field in the record? In the second in our series of posts on searching our digital repository, Acumen, we discuss searching by field — how to enter that kind of search into the box and why you’d even want to.

How do I do it?

The format for fielded searching in Acumen is actually fairly simple. Enter it in the search box like this:


Here are some examples:


You can use any of the fields shown above to do a limited search.

If you want to include more than one keyword, format your search like this:

field:(keyword AND keyword)
genre:(christmas AND cards)
date:(june AND 1863)

If you want to use more than one field in one search, format it like this:

field:keyword AND field:keyword
title:cantata AND creator:handel
subject:boxing AND description:match

Why would I do it?

Putting a single word in the box and searching isn’t a bad plan, but like with limiting by format, limiting by field can help narrow down a large set of results.

For example, the keyword legal can come up in a variety of places in a record. A simple search for that keyword yields 6417 results, but things look pretty different when you do a fielded search. You’ll see the number of results below the search box area, on the left:



In another example, the keyword time brings up 1185 results. Here’s what it looks like in different fields:



In general, using multiple keywords can get you more focused results, especially if you put AND between them. (The default is to look for one word OR the other.) Using multiple keywords in a limited search is even better, either within one field or between different fields.

football game = 679 results
football AND game = 183 results
title:(football AND game) = 104 results

This is especially true when you’re dealing with very common words and phrases.

photograph 1908 = 28798 results
photograph AND 1908 = 155 items
genre:photograph AND date:1908 = 71 results

The key to searching in a library catalogue or database is the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Specifically, try different things. One strategy is to use different words and phrases for the same concept, but you should also consider limiting your search to a particular field. In Acumen, it’s simple: just enter field:term.



Interested in digitization?

We’re looking for a new Digitization Technologist.  Are you looking for an interesting, challenging position where you’ll learn about digitization of images, text, and audio?  Where you’ll expand your developing scripting skills, learn XML (if you don’t already know it) and get up to your elbows in technical and preservation metadata?  Do you like working both on your own and as part of a close-knit team?

If this sounds like it might be right up your alley, check out the full description (under “IT Technical Specialist I – Digitization Technologist – 49792″) and submit your application before June 9 (2014).   Thanks.  We’ll be interviewing very soon!

Campus Rewind: The President’s Mansion

For this installment of Campus Rewind, check out these photos of the President’s Mansion, recently added to HistoryPin.

Besides the building, you’ll see a former President, a then-current First Lady, students protesting, and students horsing around, antebellum costume (in the 1960s!), and some truly scary plaid bell bottoms. :)

While you’re at it, take a look at the other items we’ve collected at our HistoryPin channel. Among them is a tour of images from the Crimson Tide’s trip to the 1926 Rose Bowl.

Searching Acumen – Using Tabs to Limit by Format

In the first of a series of posts on searching Acumen, our digital repository, we’ll be discussing a quick and often illuminating way to limit a search: using the tabs at the top of the search box.

Each tab limits the search to a particular kind of source, from books and manuscripts to audio, images, and even student research. Since these tabs can be selected at any point in the search process, they’re especially useful for switching your perspective on a set of results. With a search term already in the search box, simply select a tab and hit enter again to see what limiting to a particular format can unearth.

For example, searching for “civil war” results in a lot of content: 6127 results! But limiting the search to various tabs can help narrow down those results, sometimes to things you didn’t even know you wanted:

search-civilwarWho knew that Hoole library had hand-drawn maps of the war? And who would have thought about searching for sheet music?

How about “cotton”? You’ll find that our repository has resources that touch on all parts of the cotton farming industry: from an audio interview with a sharecropper to a collection of photos documenting cotton picking and harvesting to numerous pieces of manuscript material on the subject, such as receipts for cotton sales:


You’ll notice we’ve even got several pieces of sheet music, attesting to the fact that cotton was once a prominent part of popular culture.

Perhaps you’d want to search for our former governor, “George Wallace.” Using tabbed searching brings up the expected — the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door — as well as the unexpected — including an audio file of a speech he gave at UA in the late 1960s.


Did you know Wallace was instrumental in getting Alabama’s two-year college system off the ground? More importantly, did you know he was a boxer? :)

What about a search for “football”? It turns up things you might not have known were there, including issues of the student magazines Mahout and Rammer Jammer, a scrapbook of UA football memories from the 1960s, images of students playing intramural football, and student research about game analysis:


Search results always appear in the order of best match to the keyword, and best and most matches to multiple keywords. However, all things being equal, the results are presented in order of type, which does not exactly follow the order of the tabs. Images, books, manuscripts, and finding aids are first, then sheet music, audio, maps, and research.

So one good use of tabbed search is to get past lots of image results, for example, or to get to things usually further down the line like sheet music, audio, and maps.

April 15, 1865 – A Tale of Two Cities


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 

Englishman Charles Dickens wrote that in 1859, just two years before England’s former colonies began a long and bloody civil war. I wonder if that quote came to the minds of any Americans during the week of April 9-15, 1865. Depending on what perspective one had about the state of national politics, that one week entailed both a triumphant victory and a crushing defeat.

On Sunday April 9, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered, signaling the beginning of the end for the Confederacy and the Civil War. On Friday April 14, President Lincoln, who had been determined to keep the country together, was assassinated, dying the next morning.

In the process of digitizing a collection of newspaper clippings that had little to do with either the Civil War or Lincoln, we ran across what must’ve been a treasured copy of the New York Herald from April 15, 1865. We thought we’d share some clippings from it.

The Death of a President

Beyond the details of the tragedy, perhaps the most interesting thing about this news story is the insight it gives us on how newspaper reporting was done in the middle of the nineteenth century. Much of the news is presented as “dispatches,” first-person observations sent by telegraph or messenger. As with modern news stories, newer information was often tacked on to older information, to give a sense of how things have developed.

The April 15 edition repeated the earliest dispatches from Washington, from the night before:

april14Just after midnight, more news began coming in. At first, there was no talk of the president’s fate, as no one had apparently heard the doctor’s prognosis. Instead, the focus is on the crime’s perpetrators, and on the city waiting and fearing:


When the news did come in, it wasn’t good, as evidenced in the reactions of those at Lincoln’s bedside:

april15_1am-2 april15_1am-3

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, a dispatch came from Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, who was on hand at the scene:


By 7:30 a.m., the Herald was able to pronounce that the assassination had ultimately been successful:


This was just the beginning of the story, fleshed out in editions to come.

The End of a War

The Dickens quote above comes from his novel A Tale of Two Cities, the cities in question being London and Paris. But the two cities most in the minds of Herald readers were likely the fractured country’s two capitals: Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Virginia, just over 100 miles apart.

It’s also where our two stories meet, in a way. During the week before the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse and the assassination, Lincoln toured the newly fallen Confederate stronghold himself. He must’ve felt that the war’s end was near.

News from Richmond was slow to come to the Herald – it was apparently gleaned almost entirely second-hand, from southern newspapers — so some of what was reported in the April 15 edition stretched back to before the surrender.

News from April 5, the day after the fall of Richmond, brings the “first rebel account of how the city was abandoned”:


“We have no doubt that a considerable portion of the brave city has been laid in ashes and a number of its people insulted, outraged, robbed, and massacred.”

From that same day came report of a plea by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Viewing the situation in hindsight, the Herald editors were able to label it “Jeff. Davis’ last proclamation.” It was one that called on southerners’ “unconquered and unconquerable hearts”:


“It is for us, my countrymen, to show by our bearing under reverses how wretched has been the self-deception of those who have believed us less able to endure misfortune with fortitude than to encounter dangers with courage.”

In a dispatch from April 11, the fall of Richmond was reported in greater detail, including the response of the Union army and the continued advance of Confederate General Johnston, who did not give up until a few days after this edition was published:


Johnston’s refusal to back down is also mentioned here, with the report of April 14:


The following are all second-hand reports from southern newspapers on April 13. They include details of the surrender as well as an exhortation to southerners — taken from a Richmond newspaper – to “dismiss rancor from their hearts” and make peace:


And they did make peace. Was one of the costs of that peace the death of the wartime President? We’ll never quite know the answer to that question. What we do know is this tale of two cities gripped the nation, making it one of the most eventful and momentous weeks of newspaper reporting the country has ever seen.

It just goes to show how much a single item from an archive can tell you!